It comes as a big surprise to learn that the Jakarta suburb of Tangerang, known today for its sprawling factories and warehouses, has a history that makes it unique in the country.
Tangerang is believed to be the site of one of the first settlements of ethnic-Chinese in the archipelago.
there are signs that Chinese merchants had contacts with Indonesia
dating back as far as the 6th century, permanent settlements weren’t
established until much later.
A man called Chen Chi Lung is
thought to have led a small band of followers from the northern Javanese
coast, close to what would later become Batavia (now Jakarta), up the
Cisadane River in 1407.
These initial settlers are also thought
to have been acolytes of the famous Muslim admiral from China, Cheng Ho,
who led seven great Chinese fleets to Indonesia and beyond in early
15th century during the Ming Dynasty.
So, this means that
ethnic-Chinese settlement in Indonesia, starting in Tangerang, occurred a
full century before first contact with European explorers.
These settlers have since become known as “Cina Benteng”, meaning “the
Chinese of the fort”, a name that derives from Tangerang and the bend in
the Cisadane River becoming the site of a Dutch fort in the 17th
The fort was built in order to protect the Dutch settlement of Batavia from attack by the unruly Bantenese further west.
fascinating to consider that today’s sprawling district of Tangerang
started out as a small village of Chinese settlers on the banks of the
Cisadane River in the early 15th century.
Before the property developers and factories arrived, it was a fertile rural area with rice fields and rubber plantations.
you go to the old center of Tangerang today, and wander down the
narrow, crowded Pasar Lama traditional market, you will still see
Chinese-style buildings with characteristic low-curving sloped roofs and
a lively 17th century Chinese temple where incense still smolders.
man, a third-generation descendant, has made it his mission to try and
save a little of what is left of the Chinese heritage in Tangerang.
and raised in old Tangerang, Udaya Halim, whose Chinese name is Lim
Tjin Pheng, is using this heritage to help encourage the Tionghoa
community — as the ethnic-Chinese community is now known — to appreciate
and preserve their traditions and identity while educating Indonesians
as a whole about the longevity and richness of Chinese heritage.
“Culture is borderless. It is like water and air. It is nourishing the
soul. It takes and gives. It blends to build a character of a nation and
to preserve Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” Udaya said, referring to the
country’s slogan meaning “unity in diversity”.
As a small boy
growing up in a modest house overlooking the Pasar Lama market, Udaya
would sometimes gaze over the narrow lane toward a large, old
Chinese-style house on the other side and wonder what secrets it
Much later in life, after founding the King’s English
Language School in Tangerang and expanding it to other cities, Udaya
had a dream one night that he found himself inside the house. That was
the moment he knew it was his destiny to buy the old house, renovate it,
and turn it into a museum dedicated to the preservation of the Chinese
heritage of Indonesia — before it was too late.
He had recently
visited the old trading port of Malacca in Malaysia and it was like déjà
vu for him: today’s old city of Malacca was just as Udaya wanted the
future Pasar Lama to become – a living monument to Tionghoa heritage
Udaya had been impressed by the quality of the restored
houses in Malacca and, as a result, felt more confident that a similar
transformation could be made here in Tangerang.
Today, Udaya’s dream is finally starting to come true.
in September 2009, lovingly and carefully restored in its original
style, and keeping as many of the original features and materials as
possible, the Museum Benteng Heritage association was founded on the
auspicious date of Nov. 11, 2011.
So far, at least one example of a 17th century Chinese-style house in Tangerang has been restored.
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